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AT&T Inc. (T) has short-listed four startup companies in India for technology partnerships and may invest in some of them in the future, according to company executives.
The increased interest in Indian innovation comes as the U.S. telecommunications firm scouts for new technologies outside of its home market that will help expand its offerings to customers.
The startups were short-listed after A&T held a speed-dating session last month with more than a dozen entrepreneurs who were typically given about 20 minutes to present their projects. The India interview process is part of a global AT&T program to find new technologies.
AT&T will test the new technology it has selected by launching a project with the startup. It may also invest up to $1 million in the partnership, initially. If the technology proves complementary to AT&T's existing systems, it will be added to AT&T's customer offerings.
Most of the startups in India are introduced to AT&T by venture capitalists like Sequoia Capital and Norwest Venture Partners, according to Sanjay Macwan, assistant vice president at AT&T's chief technology office. In India, AT&T also taps into its relationship with software exporter Tech Mahindra Ltd. to scout for prospects.
Chennai-based Invention Labs, founded by Ajit Narayanan -- a graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras -- is one of the four short-listed companies and was introduced to AT&T by Tech Mahindra.
AT&T has short-listed Invention to build on the firm's communication technology set for people with neuromuscular and developmental disabilities.
AT&T declined to identify the other startups selected this year. Executives at Sequoia Capital, Norwest Venture Partners and Tech Mahindra weren't immediately available for comments.
Last year, AT&T met with about 40 startup firms in India, but ended up partnering with just one company to roll out a cloud-based software offering for developers, including AT&T's enterprise customers.
Another that was short-listed last year to offer video delivery technology solutions is in the process of being integrated with a network partner to AT&T, Macwan said. He added that sometimes AT&T can act as a "match-maker" by introducing the startups to AT&T's network partners such as L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co., Alcatel Lucent and Cisco Systems Inc.
The efforts by Dallas-based AT&T to scout for innovative startups comes at a time when wireless carriers in the U.S. are struggling to fight a crunch in radio bandwidth and to upgrade their network to meet demand from customers who increasingly use data-centric devices like smartphones and tablet computers.
"Mobility and network optimization is a critical area for these partnerships, given the demand on the network and the whole capacity crunch," said Macwan.
The India program started last year and has yet to yield major results. But startups in the U.S. and Israel have offered the company breakthrough technologies which helped it better manage data traffic and optimize bandwidth.
For instance, AT&T recently tied up with an Israeli firm Intucell Ltd., a start-up whose software automatically assists wireless coverage areas that are overloaded. The technology was successfully tested in one of AT&T's most intensely used radio network markets -- San Francisco -- and is now being rolled out across its network.
The quality of the startups in India is still "getting closer" to AT&T's priorities, Macwan said. "We have had more successes in Silicon Valley and Israel than in India."
-By Dhanya Ann Thoppil, Dow Jones Newswires; +91-9886929464; firstname.lastname@example.org